Philippines: overcoming conflict

09 December 2011

Recently returned villagers in Balindong, Piagapo, Lanao del Sur look forward to resume planting sweet potatoes and other crops as they used to do before their community was boomed and burnt. Photo by Mike Macarambon/MuCARRD-RIAP

Philippines, 9 December, 2011 – Imee Manginsay is the executive director of MuCARRD (Muslim-Christian Agency for Advocacy Relief, and Development), in the Philippines. She, along with others, took some time to answer questions about what is happening in the Philippines and what MuCARRD and JRS are doing to help.

JRS and MuCARRD have been working together in the Philippines for two years hoping to provide short-term peace and reconciliation trainings and livelihoods projects for people returning home after conflict to live safely.

Why is peace difficult to achieve in your area?

In 2009, peace talks between the Filippino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) disintegrated. After years of violent conflict between the government forces and this extremist separatist group, people hoped peace was around the corner. Fighting continues today and tens of thousands of Filippino people have been displaced as a result.

What is needed for there to be peace and reconciliation?

At the local level, there is a need to adopt, review and upscale the culture-based mode of conflict resolution, which had been in place and proven effective. It would involve elders from the Muslim community dialoguing with the families who are fighting and they come to an agreement on how to compensate for the loss or offence such as payment of buffalos, weapons, cash and the performance of a community/ethnic ritual to resolve the conflict. The local government units can support the mechanism by providing financial resources that may be required by the peacemakers.

For mixed communities of Christians and Muslims, interfaith dialogue is necessary to iron out issues, biases and challenges. Through interfaith dialogue, they can come up with faith-based solutions to the current problem in the two Lanao provinces.

There is a need for external pressure group to convince the government to materialise the agreement that has been agreed on by the MILF and the government. The agreement allows Muslims a claim to ancestral land in Mindanao. The Supreme Court of Philippines had considered the agreement unconstitutional. The current “Comprehensive Compact” between the GPH and MILF is worth trying if peace is to prevail in Mindanao.

What is the role of women in promoting peace?

In Maranao Society, the role of women in promoting peace is very crucial. They are very effective mediators as far as community problems and violence is concerned. Keep in mind, If a Muslim family killed or committed a serious offence against a person from another family, the aggrieved family can take the law into their hands and exact the punishment on the offender and his or her family (up to 2nd degree blood relations) which often meant killing and other violent acts. The cycle of violence continues until a resolution is found. Often, civil and government laws are ineffective in addressing them as jail is not a sufficient measure.

The same is true for cases involving violence against women and children. The Maranao tradition has very high regards on the participation and involvement of women in conflict resolution.

Through social media, they have been instrumental in reporting human rights violations committed by both the military and MILF. There are exceptional women, like the Mayor of Balindong, Lanao del Sur.  She takes the lead as negotiator with military officials or to the community leaders to pacify the conflict.

What is the work of JRS in the communities?

JRS works in the three barangays (village governments): Bualan, Bansayan and Kulasihan in terms of intervention, depending on the needs and skills of the IDPs. Mostly JRS assists with livelihoods by providing farming supplies. In other areas, JRS assists rebuilding homes, providing food to schools and assisting people with starting businesses and leadership training. This is what the people requested when JRS began its work.

What are the lessons learnt from this work so far?

If all the affected families were given these opportunities to build a livelihood and gain more diverse skills, they could help themselves and one another to live with confidence. We are finding it challenging to assist in establishing a bridge between dependency and self-reliance considering the adverse effect of the armed conflict they experienced.

One of the difficulties in working with conflict-affected families is to break the feeling of dependency among the people.

Livelihoods are an important part of this work in the Philippines. How is it helping IDPs become more self-reliant?

In the last two years the people we serve have gradually settled back into normal life after returning to their homes. In Bauman for instance, the provision of seeds and fertilisers were able for one family to buy a cow, which the family now use for ploughing their cultivated farms.

How do you ensure the work with IDPs become sustainable even after NGOs like you and JRS leave?

We have done our best to see that the people we serve can manage their livelihoods after we leave. We always reminded them that the projects supported by JRS are not a single solution to their problem but rather a means to get things started. We have tried to link them to other agencies that would help them sustain their initiatives. For example, the training for OSYs is link with the LGU-Kolambugan and the Department of Agrarian Reform so that after graduation, they can secure certificate from the TESDA that would eventually increase the credibility of the trainees upon graduation. After JRS leaves, the local government is considering taking over feeding students in the schools.

Working in situation of conflict is difficult and risky. What makes you continue this work with IDPs?

Aside from humanitarian reason, our strong religious conviction has kept us on this type of work with the IDPs.  It has something to do with values, passion and commitments. It is our moral obligation to our brothers (Muslims and Christians) to help them in time of extreme necessity. We always forecast the risks and threats that wait ahead, but commitment and eagerness founded on spiritual conviction supersedes any fear and risks along the way.

If we will not help them, who will dare to care for them? We do not help the victims because of money nor help them for popularity sake. We always help because they are people who deserve to live peacefully in their respective places.

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